Shopping for career transition services

Posted in: Bloggery, Career Change

It has become a practice in recent years for some organisations to prompt senior people experiencing retrenchment to choose between different suppliers to select a program of support following their exit from the company.

The practice is well-intentioned. HR directors have told us that they are at pains to seek to ensure that executives retain a sense of control and choice. This is particularly the case at a time when the senior executives may feel that they have been stripped of control.

We appreciate these motives. However our observation is that the senior executive absorbing the impact of unplanned career transition is often not in the best place emotionally at this time, and simply cannot take in the depth of information needed to make a good choice.  Physicians have observed the phenomenon of cognitive overload at times of stress when individuals are ill-equipped to make effective decisions. At such times choice can exacerbate rather than alleviate stress.

This further risk is that without guidance the advice to go and choose your own career transition supplier can at worst smack of abandonment on the part of the employer. In such circumstances the executive may feel reluctant to seek an opinion as to the most suitable supplier and may depart clutching two sets of program materials and never make a call to either supplier. A fairly neutral “you go make a choice” option is offered, with the sense that this is a process the firm adopts, rather than a carefully chosen specific form of support.

Aside from issues around cognitive overload and this being a very unsettled time for the individual, a much wider issue is that the true measures of an effective service simply cannot be judged by anyone at this time.   The individual is left grasping at surface impressions and salesmanship – with no real way of assessing the quality, agility, depth and tenacity of the service and the assigned consultant.

So how might HR directors feel empowered to make a more tailored recommendation to the individual going through this challenging experience?

There are six key measures of the quality of a career transition service for people in the career transition process that HR Directors can rely on in assessing the quality of a supplier.  These measures flow from substantial, empirical research drawing on the experience of senior managers and professionals and their experience of what was actually delivered by a wide range of career transition services firms.[i]

Optimally these questions are asked of a participant at around the three month point in their active involvement with a career transition supplier.  These are:

  1. Do you feel that your consultant really understood you: your capabilities and values, and what you were looking for?
  2. Did you feel that the consultant understood the “markets” you were aiming to enter?
  3. Do you feel that the coaching process utilised worked well for you?
  4. Was the career transition supplier able to supply the resources you needed?
  5. Was the service effective: at around the three month point after you began working with the firm, were you actively engaged in conversations with people in areas of interest?
  6. Would you recommend that we and other firms continue to utilise their services?

Then, with a senior person, still in the process after six months or so a further question might be:

Has the consultant shown tenacity and agility, in testing different strategies and different career paths with you, while helping you stay the course?

We suggest the last one because more than a few suppliers work a well beaten path for the first 6 – 8 sessions and then more or less leave people to their own devices – with simply access to offices and minimal follow up and coaching after this point.

It is very difficult for an individual to make a judgment about these measures of performance in one face to face meeting in a “shopping” situation. Particularly when they may be quite stressed or vulnerable at the time.

All they can rely on is some instincts around the person they meet, the quality of the office setting and the assertions (or salesmanship) involved.

These six questions can and should be asked of all individuals in career transition from a firm by the HR Director, or by a third party routinely, in follow up – and if a supplier is found wanting, appropriate action taken.

We believe then that the HR Director is best placed to make the call of which supplier to use, based on fairly hard periodic appraisal of the value of what they purchase by talking with participants. Most suppliers are going to make the same promises, but the real test of their quality should be focused on the experience of the individuals for whom the service has been purchased.

If this process is adopted, the HR Director can feel confident in making a recommendation to suit the particular needs of the individual. By staying in touch with those provided career transition services, and then asking the questions we suggest here, the organisation has taken the due care and time to ensure that high quality support will be provided in the months after the executive departs.

Attention to measuring service quality and then in only sourcing services on the basis of the real track record of a supplier can only serve to build a strong employer reputation over the long term.

[i]  If you are interested, please go to the Outplacement Industry Benchmarking Report on our website for a concise report on this research.